What we think | Practitioners Perspectives

The changing role of CFOs – Chief Business Officers are in the reckoning

Practitioner:

Indroneel Dutt

Business Leader & CFO, Cleartrip
A seasoned business and finance professional, Indroneel is an expert in unlocking value in companies. He has demonstrated expertise in turning around companies, raising funds, building for the next level of growth, and creating resilient organizations.
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In the current scenario what advise are CEOs ignoring from their CFOs?

No business leader in the C-Suite right now has a playbook to survive and thrive. It is largely a collective thought leadership that needs to play out that will assure safe reopening and keeping people valued and employed.

It is perfectly fine to not have all the answers as an individual, but as a team we should be able to figure out and deliver. Importantly, the entire leadership team needs to row the boat in a definitive, authoritative manner. The first aspect in change management during crisis is authority and direct guidance.

Coming to the CEO – CFO duet, the CEO is eternally an optimist and CFO the realist. While for the business growth it is right to let optimism rule, today’s scenario warrants realism to take over. Give urgent attention to unit economics and cost preservation so we can survive today and thrive another day. So, the CFO must complement the CEO and bring complementary skills to form a team. It is not about who is heeding whom, but more about unified approach to problem solving.

The Execution Machinery:

The definitive guidance translated into reality must be backed by a strong execution plan. The need to do it and the will to do alone is not enough, but a well-oiled execution machinery must be rolled out to support the direction of the CEO.

The Lighthouse Leadership:

In turbulent times, the leadership team sets the strategy that is akin to the beacon of the lighthouse. The team steers the ship, everyone rows hard towards getting there but the strategy that the collective C-Suite has is to be like the lighthouse – unwavering, unambiguous and comforting.

“Organizations have evolved significantly today and they have all come a long way from the church model that is hierarchical and structured to a bazaar model, which is more about peer to peer.”

Under what conditions do CFOs become CEOs?

CEO, CFO are all interchangeable titles but the fact remains that there can be only one leader in an organization and that is the CEO. When it comes to the CFO, he is the execution arm of the organization and brings in a lot of thought leadership to it. Other departments can complement as well. And from CFO to CEO is a fairly easy switch considering that he or she has the overall health of the business in mind.

But it all boils down to two fundamental questions:

1. Do you understand the business?

2. Do you have the shared sense of urgency?

CFOs should be able to design the roadmap for change and be able to move the organization quickly to the desired goals. So, it is all about interoperability and no title is cast in stone. Organizations have evolved significantly today and they have all come a long way from the church model that is hierarchical and structured to a bazaar model, which is more about peer to peer, and in this context the lines between CEO and CFOs are blurred.


What are the top three issues that your peer group of CFOs are grappling with?

Simply put it is, cash, cash, cash.

But that said the financial fraternity is up awake burning the midnight oil to figure out the following:

How to preserve what they have and maintain the limited cash capital?

Businesses of every size is worried about this, presently.

How do you ensure the product/service metamorphosis happens?

A sea of change has happened to the way products and services will be rolled out, and how organizations can rapidly morph and adapt.

How can you predict the future?

Sheer lack of past data prevents us from forecasting the future, so we have to figure it out and keep moving. We also need to convince ourselves that the journey will be error prone and with every stumbling block, there will be a new learning and perspectives that will emerge.

If people, money, and technology are the core drivers of business, how can CFOs leverage technology and people better?

We used to run businesses through people, but now another dimension has been added: Technology! Today businesses are run by business x people x technology. There is a deluge of data leading to this third dimension getting added. If you do not leverage technology to derive inferences and intelligence out of this data stack, then a CFO is not equipped with the right tools to run the business nor guide the people in the right direction.

CFOs are predominantly tracking the past financial position of the business. However, the organization is looking at CFOs to guide and even virtually predict the future – The role of the CFO is to assimilate the vast multitude of data and provide data points, trends analysis, customer behaviour analysis to the team for better decision making.

How do CFOs develop their executive presence?

Executive Presence for the CFOs is all about one central factor – Integrity. And that can be the most defining element in their toolkit. There are countless instances to take the easy way out and fall into temptation. So, for CFOs what is most difficult is to do things the right way and not to find the path of least resistance.

Also, they will have to break stereotypes of not just being the person at the corner office who always plays the number game. Their executive presence will be evident only if they become more clued into the business and allow their numbers to build outcomes and measurable metrics for the business, their numbers must predict the future.

CFO must learn to get off his/her high horse and judge the leadership team based on their spend patterns. They need to be part of an orchestra, and not the discordant note, to drive the business ahead in a synchronous manner.

Tell us a story that has resonated with you through life?“Charaiveti”, which means March forward O Traveller! Buddha ended all his lectures and sermons with this word. The honeybee, by its motion, collects honey, and birds enjoy tasty fruits by constant movement. The sun is revered, by virtue of its constant shining movement; therefore, one should be constantly in motion. Keep moving, keep moving on!”

Imagine you are driving down a dark densely wooded road. Apart from the 100 metres of road which is illuminated by your car headlights you do not have any further vision. What gives you the strength to keep driving despite not knowing if there is a road beyond what you see? It is the belief, and faith that there is a road ahead and that road is safe to keep moving, continuing your journey. This is also the same philosophy in business and personal, where irrespective of the hurdles we need to keep moving.

What are the three innovations that have impressed you the most?

  1. Post it Notes stick to everything but attaches to nothing. Similarly, In the midst of a tough conversation, there is a 10 second window that determines whether you are going to react or respond. Why don’t you wield your power of choice then and experience the positivity that spreads from it? This does not happen overnight but is a result of discipline and meditation.
  2. Mobile Phones have taken over lives in an unimaginable way and it never fails to amaze me to think about a multi-generational audience’s allegiance to it.
  3. Hologram Technology is another recent innovation that I came across which is knocking off the last two pillars to create a unified world – distance and language.

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